Under The Ink: Meet Patrick Bates aka @european.son.420
Obsessed with ink or contemplating going under the needle? In the second instalment of our tattoo series, we chat to world renowned stick and poke tattoo artist Patrick Bates (@european.son.420) about his unique style, Instagram notoriety and the most memorable tattoos he’s ever done. All whilst getting tattooed!
All of the tattoos I do have the same sort of meaning to me, I enjoy all of them. Tattoos don't always have to be so deep. If you really want to get an anchor tattooed, a million people have it, but it's still personal to you. You get the tattoos you want for your own reasons. Sometimes I'll just do the simplest of tattoos and they'll also mean a lot in their own way.
So Patrick, how did you first get into tattooing?
Well, I was always around tattooing. Then just two years ago, I was doing care work and I guess I was just growing a little sick of it. I was working in care for around six years before I left to pursue a career in tattooing. It was a good job, but it was hard and very draining. Towards the end of my time there, all I could think about was tattooing – I thought it looked like fun. Eventually, I thought I’d use my skills and become a tattooist. I started an Instagram and just put all my ideas on there – mostly writing and stuff. Then I guess I just told everyone I was a tattooist, they believed me and it went from there.
You’ve come so far in just two years! When would you say it first started really taking off?
I know right, it’s incredible! It took off pretty much as soon as I started it. Slowly at first I guess but then in 2017, my Instagram followers went up by around 95,000. All of a sudden, I was really popular. I didn’t think I was that good technically yet though, so it was a bit of a struggle at first.
Why do you tattoo using the stick and poke method rather than using a machine?
Well, it was how I started tattooing myself when I was younger. I had around half of my body tattooed using stick and poke – it took 400 hours! Then when I started tattooing around two years ago, stick and poke was the method that I was most familiar with. It’s just what felt right. I hadn’t seen too many people doing it at the time either and I thought it’d be something a little different.
Are there any differences in the quality of the healed tattoo?
Nah, not at all! It heals quicker and it doesn’t really bleed as you’re doing it. For me, it’s a bit gentler than the machine.
When your Instagram account really took off, did you suddenly have an influx of work?
Yeah! I get around 100 messages a day now. Luckily, I have an assistant who helps me to respond to everything! She’s actually my best friend who I met when we were both working in a care home. I also have a t-shirt business (@misspentyouth2016) that’s going really well right now, so she helps me out a lot with that too. We’re selling between 250 to 400 products a month at the minute – all online – so it’s super busy!
Is Misspent Youth 2016 a recent venture then?
Yeah! I started it around a year and a half ago. It’s been great but so busy! The tattooing and the t-shirt brand grew so rapidly that I was able to give my best friend a full-time job as my assistant. She manages the brand and all of my e-mails related to tattooing, which is such an unbelievably big help to me! It’s amazing to have someone I know so well, someone I really trust, handling all of that.
You get asked to tattoo a lot of words and phrases – are there any stories behind the designs that have really stuck out to you?
Yeah! There’s so many. I was at a tattoo convention in Brighton and a girl came in asking for this poem – I’ve forgotten who by, sadly. Whilst I was tattooing her, I asked her what the poem was about and why she’d decided to have it tattooed. Then, out of nowhere, her Mum showed up, spotted the tattoo and started crying. Turns out, it was this girl’s Dad’s favourite poem and it was the anniversary of his passing. The tattoo was actually a surprise for her Mum. I guess that one has really stuck with me! I just thought it was so lovely and sweet.
Are those your favourite tattoos to do?
All of the tattoos I do have the same sort of meaning to me, I enjoy all of them. Tattoos don’t always have to be so deep. If you really want to get an anchor tattooed, a million people have it, but it’s still personal to you. You get the tattoos you want for your own reasons. Sometimes I’ll just do the simplest of tattoos and they’ll also mean a lot in their own way. Perhaps it’ll be just one word or people will book in with me to get one tiny dot y’know. They just want to feel the experience and get something small that maybe not everyone knows about. I love that! I’ll always give people a full hour too, even if the tattoo takes five minutes, as I know some people love to just sit down and have a proper chat with me. I really believe that tattooing is all about the experience – making people feel comfortable and happy is so important. Some people that come will also bring drawings they’ve done of me with them!
You get fan art?!
[Laughs] Yeah! Someone in Austria actually got my face tattooed on them the other day. Others have got my name and my Instagram name tattooed on them. One guy has literally got ‘Patrick Bates’ tattooed on his hand. It’s pretty mad – I’ve never even met these people. I love it though, it’s nice! I never expected any of this.
That’s mad! What was the first thing you ever tattooed?
It was on myself actually. It was just a little ‘X’ on my foot.
And how many tattoos would you say you have now?
I’ve lost count of how many tattoos I’ve actually had in total, but I think I’ve had around 600 hours worth of work and I’m 6″7, so I’ve a lot more body than most people [laughs].
Oh wow, impressive! Do you have a favourite tattoo?
The dot on my forehead, I really like that one. I think it’s pretty much because I see it all the time though. I guess I also really like my hands. I’ve tattooed one hand over 65 times! To me, my hands represent all the practise I’ve put into making a career of this. In all honesty though, my favourite tattoo is usually the last one that I got! But I like them all. Well, I certainly don’t regret any of them anyway. Over the years, I’ve had tattoos for partners and stuff, which maybe I shouldn’t have done, but it’s just a memory. It’s a part of my life – a part of who I am. Plus, I have so many, it’s not as if those ones really stand out or anything.
What would you say the tattoo scene in London is like compared to elsewhere in the world?
London is definitely up there with the biggest! I mean, I don’t feel very tattooed here, but when I go away, people are always like ‘oh my god, you’ve got so many tattoos.’ Most of the heavily tattooed people I know are in London, they’ve all got their faces done and multiple layers of ink all over their body. London does it hard. Whereas people in Europe, they prefer to just have one or two on their arms. Just a little bit here and there!
You travel to a lot of different places to tattoo though, do you have a favourite place to go?
I think the best places I’ve ever been to tattoo are Canada and Amsterdam. They’re both so nice! In Amsterdam, I actually work at my favourite parlour in the world – Salon Serpent (@salonserpenttattooparlour). I go there roughly every two months, I absolutely love it. I like Stockholm too though actually, it’s a very beautiful place. Saying that, I also enjoy travelling around the UK – Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds, I like all those cities! I just feel very lucky that I’m able to travel the world doing what I love.
What would you say your career highlights so far have been?
Tattooing at London Fashion Week (Men’s and Women’s) was a real highlight! I was set up in model village, tattooing small designs on the models. They’ve asked me to do it again this year actually! I guess I’m kinda like their guy now.
What kind of things do models at Fashion Week get tattooed?
Before I went, I just drew up a sheet of flash designs and they picked from that. A lot of them just wanted writing or little ‘X’s. It was really nice! Some of them recognised me already, which was incredible. It’s like a different world for me. Before this all took off, I used to get my clothes from charity shops and now it’s completely different.
A big change! On the subject of change, what do you think the next big step for the tattoo industry will be?
Well, I was actually interviewed a year ago and they asked me what I wanted to tell people. I said I wanted to win the Turner Prize in the next ten years. The Turner is essentially the biggest art prize in the world. I worked with David Shrigley not long after that interview – he’s a massive hero of mine. It made me realise though, if someone like Shrigley can elevate themselves to the realms of high art, then why can’t a tattoo artist do the same? Tattooing is becoming so visible and such an important part of our culture. Sooner or later, these rich guys in Westminster are going to have to recognise it as a valued art form. It’s something that pushes boundaries – it’s universal, it lives, moves and breathes. I hope that recognition is the next step for the industry!
And finally, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t get caught. That’s the best piece of advice I can pass on to others.